Belfast Poetry Fest 2017

Core values

By Dagney C. Ernest | Oct 11, 2017
Courtesy of: Able Baker Contemporary Poet Mark Melnicove and artist Terry Winters will share their collaborations during the 2017 Belfast Poetry Festival.

Belfast — From its debut as a gallery-based, walk-around-downtown event in 2005, the Belfast Poetry Festival has grown and morphed, adding a poetry contest and more to its multi-arts collaborative showcase. Last year’s iteration ran Friday night through Saturday night and included a master class, Shop Talk, panel discussion and more.

“It was just too packed last year,” said Thomas R. Moore, the city’s current poet laureate, who admitted to being somewhat exhausted by all the 2016 options.

This year, the fest gets back to basics, offering a single evening Saturday, Oct. 14, beginning at 6 p.m. at Troy A. Howard Middle School, 173 Lincolnville Ave./Route 52. The fest, which will intersperse readings by this year’s Maine Postmark Poetry Contest finalists around the showcase collaborations, is free and open to all in a space that has plenty of parking and is handicapped-accessible.

“The festival always, relentlessly, reinvents itself. We made a very conscious choice to stick to the essentials — the core or kernel,” said Jacob Fricke, former poet laureate and longtime festival steering committeeman.

Fricke described the showcase as the backbone of the annual Belfast Poetry Festival, one of the few community-based, non-academic literary fests in the country. The 2017 fest offers collaborative presentations by poet Cate Marvin and abstract artist Ragna Bruno; poet Sharif S. Elmusa and multimedia artist Susan Smith; poet Jacques J. Rancourt and animator and printmaker Scott Minzy; poet Kifah Abdulla and musician Thomas Kovacevic; the work of poet Wendy Burk and choral artist Erica Quin-Easter, presented by Pretty Girls Sing Soprano; poet Michelle Menting and poet and visual artist Jodi Paloni; and poet Mark Melnicove and abstract artist Terry Winters.

“We always get such a great range … and even with the smaller grouping this year, we’ve got a great mix,” Fricke said. “And we’ve got a couple of high-profile people, which surprises me, and I’m so grateful.”

Some years, the festival brings in a “celebrity poet,” such as Chicago slam poet and activist Adam Gottlieb in 2014. Fricke said there is an ongoing discussion among the organizers as to whether to have such a headliner, “Or to what extent do we just emphasize the fact that everyone who comes here is kind of a star, anyway?” Certainly, the 2017 showcase participants are luminaries, Maine-based and beyond.

“If you had asked me a year ago, do you think you’ll ever get Terry Winters and Ragna Bruno, I don’t think I would’ve said, sure! And Mark and Terry submitted to the open call, they came to us,” Fricke said.

Bruno’s paintings, sculptures and drawings are in collections in the United States, Spain and Singapore. Spanish-born to German/Swedish parents, Hancock’s Bruno came to Maine in the 1970s when she married Werner Torkanowsky, the Naumburg Award-winning violinist, composer and conductor who held the Bangor Symphony Orchestra baton for a number of years. This year's festival poster/cover image is her sculpture "Endless Inspiration” which, like many of the showcase presentations, makes the literary visual.

Winters is an abstract painter, printmaker and more from New York who has had a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and whose archive of printed works is held at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville. He and Melnicove have known each other for years and collaborated this spring on a poetry-plus-print installation at Portland’s artist-run Able Baker Contemporary gallery.

“I’m so grateful and so enthusiastic about the work … it’s one of the reasons that the smaller list is showing itself to be just as sufficient,” Fricke said.

While there is no dance in this year’s showcase, there is film and photographic documentation of performance, as well as live music. The latter includes Kovacevic performing on oud, a lute-like stringed instrument; and acoustic three-part harmonies by Pretty Girls Sing Soprano’s Ingrid Ayer-Richardson, Susan Mathews and Deana Gurney. Among the projected elements will be animations by Minzy, whose angst-driven work can be seen, among other places, on cans of Narragansett’s The Temple sticke altbier, the latest in its H.P Lovecraft series of brews.

“And Susan Smith and Sharif Elmusa have a great collaboration with visual documentation of an installation piece on the side of a building,” said Fricke.

The middle school building, while not downtown, is a modern space with “everything you need,” including staging space and a greenroom, said Fricke.

“Troy Howard’s been a great venue for many different events in the past — for Midcoast Actors’ Studio, The New Vaudeville Revue. We’re always kind of looking for a perfect place,” he said.

Belfast Free Library has long been a partner in the festival and still is hosting some poetry this year. The contest finalists’ poems, juried by Katharine Rauk, are on display in the Abbott Room. They are: first place, Carol Willette Bachofner of Rockland’s "Passagassawaukeag"; second place, Jefferson Navicky of Freeport’s "Proof"; third place, Marita O'Neill of Portland’s "Arsonist's Blues"; and, runnersup, Katherine Hagopian Berry of Bridgton’s "Sestina for Trump's America” and Karie Friedman of Montville’s "Place for Spearing Sturgeon by Torchlight.”

“One of the winners, Karie Friedman, is no longer with us. Her work will be read by Judy Kaber,” said Fricke.

This year’s contest submissions were in the neighborhood of 200, setting a record that surpassed even the first year the first prize included publication. This year, that ink will be supplied by The Maine Review, a relatively new biannual publication that Fricke calls “a great operation.” He is equally enthused about the quality of poems entered.

“It’s always diverse and always a really satisfying range of approaches and subject matter, “ he said. “That’s one of the things that’s inherent to poetry in general, its ability to provide surprise and insight from the most unexpected materials and situations.”

Belfast poet Kaber won the contest in 2009; in 2011, the top nod went to Moore and he has been a featured poet in the past. This is his first year helping to plan the fest, part of his Belfast Poet Laureate duties. Since being draped with the Gold Cape on New Year’s Eve, Moore has started a couple of poetry initiatives, most at the library. Every Tuesday from quarter of 10 to 11 a.m., he hosts “office hours” in the library’s third floor conference room.

“Since the beginning of summer, there hasn’t been a session without two or three or four people there. We do a little writing prompt and then we read them the next week,” Moore said. “It’s really been very successful; I look forward to it!”

The weekly sessions follow in the footsteps of a group he had last winter at the Belfast Ecovillage, Moore said. Earlier this month, he did a poetry presentation at the Tall Pines retirement community. Another thing Moore has introduced is Waldo County Poet of the Week. A new poem is posted weekly just to the left of the library entrance, work that can be read through the glass from the outside and also copied/posted inside.

“I solicited poems from quite a long list of people, and every Tuesday I put up a new one,” Moore said.

The city’s governmental website also has some poetry, thanks to a request by City Councilman Michael Hurley.

“I gave him eight poems with a couple of notes around each one and now they’re on the website,” said Moore. “It’s really a poetry-rich town, it’s just amazing.”

That richness is evident before the fest opens the doors this year. Friday, Oct. 13, from 5 to 6 p.m., the social hour at the downtown Ondine Oyster + Wine Bar will offer readings by Moore; former Belfast Poet Laureates Ellen Sander and Linda Buckmaster; and Joel Lipman and Nancy Carey. Moore and Buckmaster also helped organize the “Summer’s End: Departures, Gazpacho, and Queen Anne’s Lace” reading that took place over Labor Day weekend at The Playhouse.

“And we had one that [former Poet Laureate] Elizabeth Garber organized in May. They’re really fun; a lot of people sign up and a lot of people read,” Moore said. “You get a wide range, some OK poems and some really, really excellent poems.”

Saturday afternoon, there will be another such Pop-Up Poetry Open Mic, starting 2 p.m. at the library and held in conjunction with the festival. Signup is at 1:45 p.m., and those who wish to read are asked to bring one or two poems.

“We’ve been kind of tinkering with that model, also. Last year, a memorial reading was put on by Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance,” said Fricke. “The festival’s a day when poets from all around the state and beyond are in town; the pop-up will be holding seats particularly for people from outside Waldo County,” Fricke said.

Like the festival itself, the pop-up open mic is free and attracts a diverse range of poets. But there is a fest weekend tradition that may or may not pop up this year, since there is no Friday night opener.

“You know, there’s been a pattern of torrential, soaking rain on the Friday, and clear and gorgeous on Saturday,” Fricke said.

Rain or shine, the Belfast Poetry Festival is a go for the 13th year, something Fricke said he thinks is an accomplishment in itself. It’s also been an inspiration.

“There are three imitation festivals to this point. Some haven’t taken place yet, are in the works for the forthcoming year — Maine, Rhode Island and, potentially, North Carolina,” he said.

Those who come to the 2017 Belfast Poetry Festival and leave inspired are encouraged to consider becoming a part of it.

“One can always reach out through the website, thanks to Al Arthur for that,” said Fricke.

The festival’s website is and offers background information on all the presenters, as well as a look back at previous fests.

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